Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Project Mockingbird

I would like to take the next couple of days to talk about "bracketology", it's purpose, and it's usefulness (?). Today, I want to focus on the mock committee experience and urge you to get out of the Lunardi Bubble and do the process.

My bracket projections are largely based on my mock committee experiences. I have been doing bracket projections since 1998, but 2002 was the real "Hallelujah Moment for" me. Jerry Palm of CollegeRPI.com asked for volunteers/resumes to participate in a mock selection committee for the 01-02 season. I applied as the WKU "AD" and was selected to participate. We did all votes by email and all discussions on Yahoo! chat. No amount reading what I write or listening to "experts" is ever going to teach you as much as participating the process. It changed everything for me and for the folks on the SCKySSiP.

After that experience, I saw the formerly pseudo-evil, biased, mid-major-hating committee for what they are: a group of humans charged with a difficult task and destined to disappoint some teams and their fan bases. There is no such thing as a "perfect" bracket. Creighton, St. Mary's, Auburn, Providence, and San Diego State are bummin' today. But, it could have just as easily been Dayton, Maryland, or Arizona's fans. And swapping out any of those teams would not have made the bracket any more perfect or just.

The reason for this is because the committee does not choose teams in talks over brandy and cigars. It is done through a relentless series of votes based on what teams have done in their "full body of work" (phrase copyright Mike Slive, 2009). In fact, it's ENTIRELY possible that no committee member had Arizona "in" on their personal S-curve (list of 65 teams) and yet have the Wildcats get into the final bracket. How?

Let's say the committee is voting to add two teams to the bracket and it turns out that these are the last two teams IN (not that they would necessarily know this at the time--SCKySSiP certainly did not know that Dayton would be bumped by Miss State when we voted them IN). And, let's say three of the members ballots look like this:

Dayton, San Diego State, Arizona, Creighton, St. Mary's
Dayton, Creighton, Arizona, San Diego State, St. Mary's
Dayton, St. Mary's, Arizona, San Diego State, Creighton

In these lists of five (assigned point values of 1-5), Dayton has 3 points, SD State has 10, Arizona has 9, St. Mary's 12, and Creighton has 11. So, even though none of the three members have Arizona technically "IN" on their individual S-curve, Dayton and Arizona have the lowest vote totals and would go IN. Collectively, Arizona is #2 on this list.

Understanding this helps debunk the idea that some single member with an agenda can skew things disproportionately (nevermind the fact that they cannot participate in votes involving their own school). If there is any perceived unfairness or injustice toward "mid-majors," it's more the result of imbalanced budgets and scheduling than committee bias.

So, next season on TBB, let us start "Project Mockingbird." Let's get as many people as possible to replicate this process, not by guessing what the committee will do (which is fun, but amounts to guesswork, especially at the bottom), but by DOING the process with a group of people just like the actual committtee does and seeing what results. It is an exercise in tedium, voting, argumentation, voting, evaluation, voting, tedium, discussion, fun, voting, and numbers. You must read complex rules and regs, and orchestrate smooth voting procedures. You will need people who will commit to watching lots of games and join you in this mad process which has nothing to do with a beautiful pick-n-roll, intense full-court defense, an oily-smooth shooting stroke, or boxing out. It has everything to do with RPI, bracketing rules, pod assignments, and lower-level math. It can still be fun, but when it's over, you will be glad. I think I can speak for the SCKySSiP in that regard. We have a blast doing it, but by the 4,593rd vote, you are ready for it to be over. And you still have to assign pods!

I am not a champion of "bracketology" or the selection process. But, it is the system we have and it does birth The Bracket--the greatest championship in sports. For all it's flaws and soul-stripping resume evaluation, it is OUR process. So, I immerse myself in it not because it is perfect or righteous, but because it is the process used to create the championship tournament and should be understood by fans who care about it.

This is a call to do it. Anyone can slap together 65 teams and make a guess. It's good fun and it keeps me in touch with all 31 conferences. I love that about the Lockbox and bracket projections. But, next season, go the distance, put together a committee, and do the process. I guarantee that you will learn a lot and gain a new appreciation for the actual committee. I warn you that unless you keep the proper perspective, it can darken your soul. But, for me, engaging in the tedium only bright lines the goodness of the game bewteen the lines on the court. "Bracketology" is fun--but it's not basketball. Immersing myself in the selection process only heightens my appreciation for the sights, sounds, smells, and energy of watching my Hilltoppers in Diddle Arena and for a well-executed backdoor cut.

"Bracketology" should not be about how many teams you can "get right." Again, that's a fun game that I play pretty well, but it does not do much in the way of helping me or anyone else understand the committee process. Like just about anything else, the best way to learn and understand is to do it. So, here is a link the selection criteria. Read it (it's best in small chunks lest you lose your soul), find some other insane fans, and plan on doing it next season with the goal being understanding, NOT guesswork.